I probably have the same conversations as most of you, especially when talking to ex-pats who return here for a holiday. The conversation almost inevitably includes a question about whether I would leave South Africa. My response is generally that we have no plans to go and that there are still so many reasons to stay here and work through the crap we see around us. I usually feel good about my answer after I give it because I have this persistent sense that as much as SA is a bit like the Wild West, there is tremendous potential here which simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.
I have certainly not been the only person to see this promise of a wonderful future down here on the tip of Africa. Sites like SA Rocks are a testament to this shared vision. Of course there are plenty people who don’t share this view and find it difficult to move past the many negatives (crime, idiotic government, rising costs, more crime, Eskom just to name a few) and lash out at the country as a whole when they decide to leave, only to be met with outrage by the people determined to stay who see these emigrants as traitors (who wants them anyway?) and a cancer that should be cut out and sent to Perth. Lately I feel like I can understand what may give rise to such anti-SA sentiment – anger and a strong sense of powerlessness. My neighbour was hijacked a week or so ago outside my front gate. She is an elderly lady who was riding home with her granddaughter and they were attacked by a group of youths who assaulted her and even went so far as to try bite her finger to get at her wedding ring (her husband of many decades passed away in July last year). Thankfully she wasn’t badly hurt and the car was recovered relatively undamaged but the proximity of the attack freaked me out, not to mention the savage nature of the attack. I have since spent a couple hours in the early hours of the morning unable the sleep at the thought of the horrors that could be visited on my wife and baby if these kinds of thugs ever targetted my home or family.
I remember reading about the difference between our criminals and Nigerian criminals in a magazine (I think it may have been Maverick). The writer wrote that the difference between our criminals and the Nigerians is that the Nigerians will rob you and may even apologise. Our criminals will bundle you into your car and take you off somewhere to do something even more awful. There seems to be little humanity in the people who think so little about attacking you at your home. It just makes me ill to think about what could happen.
Another vivid illustration of the dangers we face has been on TV and in our papers the last few days. The xenophobic violence has been horrific and haven’t seen scenes like that since before the 1994 elections. It dumbfounds me that people could do that to each other and my only thought is that human life means nothing to the mob that can burn a man alive because he is a visitor to our country. Footage of men moving from home to home with pangas and other weapons reminds me of the genocides in Rwanda and other northern African countries (let’s not forget the recent violence in Kenya over an election result) and I wonder how long it will be before the violence spills out of the townships into the rest of the country. What will happen if these murderers start going from house to house in your neighbourhood looking for anyone who seems remotely foreign of different? When does xenophobia become just racism?
So, yes, there are plenty reasons to think about leaving the country. I see people talking about how loyal they are to South Africa and even go so far as to say they would die for this country. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. Is all this worth fighting for? Sure. Is it worth dying for? Absolutely not. For me, a strong motivation to look at other countries to live in is the thought of my wife and baby being attacked by inhuman psychopaths who value trinkets more than the well-being of another human being. That is a pretty good reason to think about leaving.